Writing children’s narratives

The goal of public profiles in photolistings is to reach prospective adoptive parents and help them make an emotional connection with young people who need a family.

To accomplish this, public narratives must present a strengths-based, positive depiction of the child. They must also protect children’s safety, privacy, and dignity.

On this page:

Principles behind creating public child narratives

We believe that information about children must be shared on a continuum, with positive, descriptive information in the public profile available to all and information about challenges and support needs provided to home-studied families only through private narratives and conversations.
Because public narratives can be viewed by anyone who visits the photolisting website or picks up a printed flyer—including birth family members, tech savvy peers, and the children themselves—it is especially important to keep these principles in mind when writing a public narrative:

  • The first obligation is to protect the child or youth.
  • The goal of a public profile of a child is to encourage prospective parents.
  • The narrative should be positive, descriptive, and strengths-based.

In addition, public narratives should be clear and grammatically correct and be written with input from the child whenever possible.

What to include in a child’s public narrative

The best narratives are written by people who know the child or drawn from information provided by people who know them well.

A child’s narrative should include the following information:

  • Positive personality traits
  • Strengths
  • Hobbies, interests, favorite pastimes, accomplishments, and milestones
  • What they like about school and school successes
  • What matters to them
  • Ways they are connected to the community (such as church, ROTC, Scouts, YMCA)
  • Cultural connections or languages they speak
  • Things that make them laugh or make them proud
  • Positive quotes—from the child or people who know them
  • Their dreams for the future
  • Important connections such as with siblings or grandparents
  • How a family might make a difference in their life; things they might do together
  • Appeals to families that encourage them to act

Read more about what to include in a child’s public narrative and examples of creative ways that you can incorporate this information.

Also read about information to consider carefully before including and see examples of well-written public narratives.

What not to include in a child’s public narrative

Your first obligation when creating a child’s profile is to protect the safety and dignity of the child. No one should be able to find the child using the information provided, and the child should not be embarrassed by any information contained within it.

Children’s narratives should never contain any of the following information:

  • Identifying information: last name, date of birth, name of school, or other geographic location
  • Information about the abuse, neglect, or maltreatment the child experienced and the reasons for the child’s entry into care
  • Information about the child’s birth family such as their mental health or substance abuse challenges (it’s OK to include information about connections the child wants to maintain with siblings or other relatives)
  • Information about placements: current type, history, number of placements, length of time in care, or unsuccessful adoptions or other placement disruptions
  • Medical information: diagnoses or treatments, medications used, that the child is receiving therapy or counseling, and levels of functioning
  • Any behavioral challenges, including lying, being aggressive, sexual, delinquent, or acting younger or overly mature
  • Intellectual ability or educational challenges, including all references to special education status, IEPs, grades, and IQ score or range
  • Any allusion to sexual orientation or gender identity, including anything that would indicate that a youth is transgender or LGBTQ (read about exceptions to this rule)
  • Things that limit potential families, including that you are seeking a two-parent family or a family of a certain race or religion or other fixed characteristics
  • Discussion about the child’s reluctance about adoption
  • Links or references to a child’s personal YouTube channel, web page, or social media accounts
  • Any negative information about the child
  • Potential painful or embarrassing information
  • Information the child asked to have excluded from the narrative
  • Age; include their birth year instead

Read more details about what not to include in a child or teen’s narrative and things to consider carefully before including, such as information about ongoing and long-term support needs.

Sample interview questions

Getting accurate, interesting information about a child or teen is the most important part of creating a compelling profile. If the child is old enough, have someone the child is comfortable with interview them. If they are too young or not able or willing to be interviewed, talk with their foster parent or caregiver.

To help make the interview a success, we offer 36 questions that will get children and teens talking.

Narrative writing tips

The best way to improve your narrative-writing skills is to see what others are doing and learn from them. When you’re writing be sure to include examples and quotes, focus on the positive, and have a second set of eyes review before publishing. Read more about how to write a successful narrative.

How to select a photo

Including a good picture and video, if available, is one of the best ways to help prospective parents connect with a child.

When selecting a photo, be sure that it is current, clear (i.e., not blurry or pixelated), and free of identifying information (e.g., a school name). Read more about selecting a photo.

Public narrative-writing checklist

Use our comprehensive narrative-writing checklist (55 KB PDF) to ensure that your narratives are strengths-based, protect the child’s privacy, and encourage families to learn more.

Adding a private narrative

Sharing additional information with workers and families who have been home-studied through a private narrative is a good way to help families know if they may be a good fit for a child and whether they should submit a home study. Our AdoptUSKids photolisting and several state photolistings allow you to include information about children’s disabilities and challenges through these private narratives.

Even if your online photolisting doesn’t have a private narrative, you can create one that you send to home-studied families who express interest. Read more about creating a private narrative.

Learn more about narrative writing

If you have questions about writing effective public narratives, we are here to help! Call 800-901-6911 or send us an email.